Shark take, driven by vast demand for meat and fins, is increasing. We set out to gain insights into the impact of small-scale longline fisheries in Peru. Onboard observers were used to document catch from 145 longline fishing trips (1668 fishing days) originating from Ilo, southern Peru. Fishing effort is divided into two seasons: targeting dolphinfish (Coryphaena hippurus; December to February) and sharks (March to November). A total of 16,610 sharks were observed caught, with 11,166 identified to species level. Of these, 70.6% were blue sharks (Prionace glauca), 28.4% short-fin mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus), and 1% were other species (including thresher (Alopias vulpinus), hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena), porbeagle (Lamnus nasus), and other Carcharhinidae species (Carcharhinus brachyurus, Carcharhinus falciformis, Galeorhinus galeus). Mean ± SD catch per unit effort of 33.6 ± 10.9 sharks per 1000 hooks was calculated for the shark season and 1.9 ± 3.1 sharks per 1000 hooks were caught in the dolphinfish season. An average of 83.7% of sharks caught (74.7% blue sharks; 93.3% mako sharks) were deemed sexually immature and under the legal minimum landing size, which for species exhibiting k-selected life history traits can result in susceptibility to over exploitation. As these growing fisheries operate along the entire Peruvian coast and may catch millions of sharks per annum, we conclude that their continued expansion, along with ineffective legislative approaches resulting in removal of immature individuals, has the potential to threaten the sustainability of the fishery, its target species, and ecosystem. There is a need for additional monitoring and research to inform novel management strategies for sharks while maintaining fisher livelihoods.
Management of species of conservation concern requires knowledge of demographic parameters, such as rates of recruitment, survival, and growth. In the Caribbean, hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) have been historically exploited in huge numbers to satisfy trade in their shells and meat. In the present study, we estimated growth rate of juvenile hawksbill turtles around Anegada, British Virgin Islands, using capture-mark-recapture of 59 turtles over periods of up to 649 days. Turtles were recaptured up to six times, having moved up to 5.9 km from the release location. Across all sizes, turtles grew at an average rate of 9.3 cm year(-1) (range 2.3-20.3 cm year(-1)), and gained mass at an average of 3.9 kg year(-1) (range 850 g-16.1 kg year(-1)). Carapace length was a significant predictor of growth rate and mass gain, but there was no relationship between either variable and sea surface temperature. These are among the fastest rates of growth reported for this species, with seven turtles growing at a rate that would increase their body size by more than half per year (51-69% increase in body length). This study also demonstrates the importance of shallow water reef systems for the developmental habitat for juvenile hawksbill turtles. Although growth rates for posthatching turtles in the pelagic, and turtles larger than 61 cm, are not known for this population, the implications of this study are that Caribbean hawksbill turtles in some areas may reach body sizes suggesting sexual maturity in less time than previously considered.
The temperate waters of the North-Eastern Atlantic have a long history of maritime resource richness and, as a result, the European Union is endeavouring to maintain regional productivity and biodiversity. At the intersection of these aims lies potential conflict, signalling the need for integrated, cross-border management approaches. This paper focuses on the marine megafauna of the region. This guild of consumers was formerly abundant, but is now depleted and protected under various national and international legislative structures. We present a meta-analysis of available megafauna datasets using presence-only distribution models to characterise suitable habitat and identify spatially-important regions within the English Channel and southern bight of the North Sea. The integration of studies from dedicated and opportunistic observer programmes in the United Kingdom and France provide a valuable perspective on the spatial and seasonal distribution of various taxonomic groups, including large pelagic fishes and sharks, marine mammals, seabirds and marine turtles. The Western English Channel emerged as a hotspot of biodiversity for megafauna, while species richness was low in the Eastern English Channel. Spatial conservation planning is complicated by the highly mobile nature of marine megafauna, however they are important components of the marine environment and understanding their distribution is a first crucial step toward their inclusion into marine ecosystem management.
Nesting by three species of marine turtles persists in the Dominican Republic, despite historic threats and long-term population decline. We conducted a genetic survey of marine turtles in the Dominican Republic in order to link them with other rookeries around the Caribbean. We sequenced a 740bp fragment of the control region of the mitochondrial DNA of 92 samples from three marine turtle species [hawksbill (n?=?48), green (n?=?2) and leatherback (n?=?42)], and incorporated published data from other nesting populations and foraging grounds. The leatherback turtle (Dermochelys coriacea) in the Dominican Republic appeared to be isolated from Awala-Yalimapo, Cayenne, Trinidad and St. Croix but connected with other Caribbean populations. Two distinct nesting populations of hawksbill turtles (Eremochelys imbricata) were detected in the Dominican Republic and exhibited interesting patterns of connectivity with other nesting sites and juvenile and adult male foraging aggregations. The green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) has almost been extirpated from the Dominican Republic and limited inference could be made from our samples. Finally, results were compared with Lagrangian drifting buoys and published Lagrangian virtual particles that travelled through the Dominican Republic and Caribbean waters. Conservation implications of sink-source effects or genetic isolation derived from these complex inter-connections are discussed for each species and population.
The effect of climate warming on the reproductive success of ectothermic animals is currently a subject of major conservation concern. However, for many threatened species, we still know surprisingly little about the extent of naturally occurring adaptive variation in heat-tolerance. Here, we show that the thermal tolerances of green turtle (Chelonia mydas) embryos in a single, island-breeding population have diverged in response to the contrasting incubation temperatures of nesting beaches just a few kilometres apart. In natural nests and in a common-garden rearing experiment, the offspring of females nesting on a naturally hot (black sand) beach survived better and grew larger at hot incubation temperatures compared with the offspring of females nesting on a cooler (pale sand) beach nearby. These differences were owing to shallower thermal reaction norms in the hot beach population, rather than shifts in thermal optima, and could not be explained by egg-mediated maternal effects. Our results suggest that marine turtle nesting behaviour can drive adaptive differentiation at remarkably fine spatial scales, and have important implications for how we define conservation units for protection. In particular, previous studies may have underestimated the extent of adaptive structuring in marine turtle populations that may significantly affect their capacity to respond to environmental change.
1. The metabolic theory of ecology (MTE) predicts that, after correcting for body mass variation among organisms, the rates of most biological processes will vary as a universal function of temperature. However, empirical support for universal temperature dependence (UTD) is currently equivocal and based on studies of a limited number of traits. 2. In many ectothermic animals, the rate at which females produce mature eggs is temperature dependent and may be an important factor in determining the costs of reproduction. 3. We tested whether the rate of egg maturation in marine turtles varies with environmental temperature as predicted by MTE, using the time separating successive clutches of individual females to estimate the rate at which eggs are formed. We also assessed the phenotypic contribution to this rate, by using radio telemetry to make repeated measurements of interclutch intervals for individual green turtles (Chelonia mydas). 4. Rates of egg maturation increased with seasonally increasing water temperatures in radio-tracked green turtles, but were not repeatable for individual females, and did not vary according to maternal body size or reproductive investment (number and size of eggs produced). 5. Using a collated data set from several different populations and species of marine turtles, we then show that a single relationship with water temperature explains most of the variation in egg maturation rates, with a slope that is statistically indistinguishable from the UTD predicted by MTE. However, several alternative statistical models also described the relationship between temperature and egg maturation rates equally parsimoniously. 6. Our results offer novel support for the MTEs predicted UTD of biological rates, although the underlying mechanisms require further study. The strong temperature dependence of egg maturation combined with the apparently weak phenotypic contribution to this rate has interesting behavioural implications in ectothermic animals. We suggest that maternal thermoregulatory behaviour in marine turtles, and many other reptiles, is consistent with a strategy of adaptively increasing body temperatures to accelerate egg maturation.
Tractable conservation measures for long-lived species require the intersection between protection of biologically relevant life history stages and a socioeconomically feasible setting. To protect breeding adults, we require knowledge of animal movements, how movement relates to political boundaries, and our confidence in spatial analyses of movement. We used satellite tracking and a switching state-space model to determine the internesting movements of olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea) (n?=?18) in Central Africa during two breeding seasons (2007-08, 2008-09). These movements were analyzed in relation to current park boundaries and a proposed transboundary park between Gabon and the Republic of Congo, both created to reduce unintentional bycatch of sea turtles in marine fisheries. We additionally determined confidence intervals surrounding home range calculations. Turtles remained largely within a 30 km radius from the original nesting site before departing for distant foraging grounds. Only 44.6 percent of high-density areas were found within the current park but the proposed transboundary park would incorporate 97.6 percent of high-density areas. Though tagged individuals originated in Gabon, turtles were found in Congolese waters during greater than half of the internesting period (53.7 percent), highlighting the need for international cooperation and offering scientific support for a proposed transboundary park. This is the first comprehensive study on the internesting movements of solitary nesting olive ridley sea turtles, and it suggests the opportunity for tractable conservation measures for female nesting olive ridleys at this and other solitary nesting sites around the world. We draw from our results a framework for cost-effective protection of long-lived species using satellite telemetry as a primary tool.
Despite extensive work carried out on leatherback turtles (Dermochelys coriacea) in the North Atlantic and Indo-Pacific, very little is known of the at-sea distribution of this species in the South Atlantic, where the worlds largest population nests in Gabon (central Africa). This paucity of data is of marked concern given the pace of industrialization in fisheries with demonstrable marine turtle bycatch in African/Latin American waters. We tracked the movements of 25 adult female leatherback turtles obtaining a range of fundamental and applied insights, including indications for methodological advancement. Individuals could be assigned to one of three dispersal strategies, moving to (i) habitats of the equatorial Atlantic, (ii) temperate habitats off South America or (iii) temperate habitats off southern Africa. While occupying regions with high surface chlorophyll concentrations, these strategies exposed turtles to some of the worlds highest levels of longline fishing effort, in addition to areas with coastal gillnet fisheries. Satellite tracking highlighted that at least 11 nations should be involved in the conservation of this species in addition to those with distant fishing fleets. The majority of tracking days were, however, spent in the high seas, where effective implementation of conservation efforts is complex to achieve.
Underwater noise from shipping is a growing presence throughout the worlds oceans, and may be subjecting marine fauna to chronic noise exposure with potentially severe long-term consequences. The coincidence of dense shipping activity and sensitive marine ecosystems in coastal environments is of particular concern, and noise assessment methodologies which describe the high temporal variability of sound exposure in these areas are needed. We present a method of characterising sound exposure from shipping using continuous passive acoustic monitoring combined with Automatic Identification System (AIS) shipping data. The method is applied to data recorded in Falmouth Bay, UK. Absolute and relative levels of intermittent ship noise contributions to the 24-h sound exposure level are determined using an adaptive threshold, and the spatial distribution of potential ship sources is then analysed using AIS data. This technique can be used to prioritize shipping noise mitigation strategies in coastal marine environments.
For species of conservation concern, knowledge of key life-history and demographic components, such as the number and sex ratio of breeding adults, is essential for accurate assessments of population viability. Species with temperature-dependent sex determination can produce heavily biased primary sex ratios, and there is concern that adult sex ratios may be similarly skewed or will become so as a result of climate warming. Prediction and mitigation of such impacts are difficult when life-history information is lacking. In marine turtles, owing to the difficultly in observing males at sea, the breeding interval of males is unknown. It has been suggested that male breeding periodicity may be shorter than that of females, which could help to compensate for generally female-biased sex ratios. Here we outline how the use of molecular-based paternity analysis has allowed us, for the first time, to assess the breeding interval of male marine turtles across multiple breeding seasons. In our study rookery of green turtles (Chelonia mydas), 97% of males were assigned offspring in only one breeding season within the 3-year study period, strongly suggesting that male breeding intervals are frequently longer than 1year at this site. Our results also reveal a sex ratio of breeding adults of at least 1.3 males to each female. This study illustrates the utility of molecular-based parentage inference using reconstruction of parental genotypes as a method for monitoring the number and sex ratio of breeders in species where direct observations or capture are difficult.
We describe the real-time movements of the last of the marine mega-vertebrate taxa to be satellite tracked - the giant manta ray (or devil fish, Manta birostris), the worlds largest ray at over 6 m disc width. Almost nothing is known about manta ray movements and their environmental preferences, making them one of the least understood of the marine mega-vertebrates. Red listed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature as Vulnerable to extinction, manta rays are known to be subject to direct and incidental capture and some populations are declining. Satellite-tracked manta rays associated with seasonal upwelling events and thermal fronts off the Yucatan peninsula, Mexico, and made short-range shuttling movements, foraging along and between them. The majority of locations were received from waters shallower than 50 m deep, representing thermally dynamic and productive waters. Manta rays remained in the Mexican Exclusive Economic Zone for the duration of tracking but only 12% of tracking locations were received from within Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Our results on the spatio-temporal distribution of these enigmatic rays highlight opportunities and challenges to management efforts.
For organisms with temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD), skewed offspring sex ratios are common. However, climate warming poses the unique threat of producing extreme sex ratio biases that could ultimately lead to population extinctions. In marine turtles, highly female-skewed hatchling sex ratios already occur and predicted increases in global temperatures are expected to exacerbate this trend, unless species can adapt. However, it is not known whether offspring sex ratios persist into adulthood, or whether variation in male mating success intensifies the impact of a shortage of males on effective population size. Here, we use parentage analysis to show that in a rookery of the endangered green turtle (Chelonia mydas), despite an offspring sex ratio of 95 per cent females, there were at least 1.4 reproductive males to every breeding female. Our results suggest that male reproductive intervals may be shorter than the 2-4 years typical for females, and/or that males move between aggregations of receptive females, an inference supported by our satellite tracking, which shows that male turtles may visit multiple rookeries. We suggest that male mating patterns have the potential to buffer the disruptive effects of climate change on marine turtle populations, many of which are already seriously threatened.
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